School of Forgery is the debut full collection from Jon Stone, something I’ve personally been anticipating for some years now. I first became aware of him via Fuselit magazine, of which both he and Kirsten Irving are creators, and from that point on I was always interested to see where his work would appear and what he’d conjure next.
While Stone’s poems cover a wealth of subject matter, a certain clutch of images and reference points crop up repeatedly throughout this collection that, amongst the backdrop of contemporary poetry, set him quite a bit apart from others. Stone, clearly, is a lover of Japanese culture and all that entails, from folklore to Manga to cartoons and robots. This could be a big part of the reason I was initially attracted to his work, because these things formed an enormous part of my upbringing. In my latter teenage years, especially, I fell instantly in love with anime, soaking up the classics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell, as well as the slightly off-kilter offerings and nightmarish yet weirdly enticing Urotsukidoji series (a beautiful quote referencing this depraved classic is brilliantly cherry picked for the poemTatsunoko). There was the breadth of Asian cinema, the comics, and of course the computer games, and all of it just seemed so thrilling to me.
I get sort of the same sensations from reading School of Forgery. There are flashes of things I recognize, things that seem familiar yet have been written to feel brand new, and things I have no knowledge of yet feel inspired to look up. What propels all of this colour and electricity along is the technical exuberance in which they are rendered. In less capable hands, deciding you are going to write about a character from an obscure anime, for example, could easily fall flat. Yet Stone possesses the mechanical know-how to match the intents of his ideas. For quite a large chunk of the book, he keeps his style actually quite tame and there’s a sense of real energy fizzing beneath the words, like an erratic pokemon that wants to explode into fireworks yet is being held on a lead by its master. And then there are occasions, too few in my opinion, when he simply lets rip.
It makes perfect sense to place the two poems Nose Jobs and Jake Root alongside each other, because they are both absolutely packed with brilliant, brilliant writing. There is such a mastery of rhythm, pace, alliteration, imagery and audio joy in these two pieces that each of the poems start to feel like some kind of amorphous, living thing; imagine a slightly transparent indigo jelly filled with organs and bones and sparkling things, all moving and jostling and glugging and jabbering at you … that’s how these two pieces feel (in my head, at any rate). And side by side, they fizz and spark off each other, so that the more you read them, the more hypnotic they become. Had every poem in the book been like this, I can imagine it could be quite exhausting for the reader, so, contrary to what I said above, I can see why for some of the others Stone has reigned his vocabulary in for a more measured, subtle reading experience.
Other highlights include Death Daydream Season, a series of poems based on the Avengers TV series, with each poem being meticulously crafted into the shape of the character it is written about. Steed’s walking stick comprised of lots of “to’s” is a nice touch. Such experiments, together with the Mustard poem, where every line ends with a different amalgamation of the letters contained in the title, ensures a varied, bubbling cauldron of poetry that, on first read, shouts and bounces around for attention. (Probably best to give it two reads to let it all sink in, as I did).
School of Forgery is never vague. It is a highly specific book tailored to specific ideas, with a pinpoint accuracy of references. It could be argued that if you have zero knowledge of the influences and name checks you could be left feeling unable to engage, but I’d say there is still a huge amount of pleasure for those people to be had in the variety of language, techniques and thought processes going on here. For those craving some originality and a spark of the frizzy-haired mad scientist in their poetry, it’s a must.